EASA, 2010: EASA2010: Crisis and imagination

Maynooth, 24/08/2010 – 27/08/2010


Chance in time of crisis

Location Humanities Large Seminar Room 1
Date and Start Time 27 Aug, 2010 at 11:30


Riccardo Ciavolella (CNRS/EHESS) email
Lorenzo D'Angelo (University of Milano-Bicocca) email
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Long Abstract

The panel aims to collect contributions highlighting the role of chance or luck in individual or collective experiences and particularly in situation of crisis. We often talk about causality when confronting drastic and critical phenomena we are unable to control or predict, i.e. natural disasters. In daily life experience, too, people feel dependent on luck and chance, in particularly some professional or non professional categories: stock exchange investors, gem and precious metals prospectors, gamblers. Fortune (or misfortune) are important in explaining the outcome of a lottery or a game show, sport scores, stock market investments, professional career; or an existential drama, an unfavourable financial situation, and so on. In any case, the notions of luck and chance are supposed to explain the reasons for an uncertain and unpredictable reality. Contributions will focus on most recent events of public interest, such as the case of migrants crossing the Mediterranean, the "environmental" disasters like tsunami or earthquakes, and other crisis derived from ecological deterioration (droughts, famine) or technological risk.

The objective of this panel is to raise the debate on a comparative level. On the one hand, it will address the issue of luck in front of the shared human condition of uncertainty and vulnerability. On the other, it will try to understand whether, in the globalized "risk society", the concepts of luck and chance acquire a special significance, as probably inferred by some depoliticizing explanations made by analysts and politicians to the recent international economic crisis.

Discussant: Danielle de Lame

This workshop is closed to new paper proposals.


Betting on luck or, how to cope with uncertainty in the artisanal diamond mining

Author: Lorenzo D'Angelo (University of Milano-Bicocca)  email
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Long Abstract

In many Sub-Saharan African countries, artisanal mining seems to attract more people when national economies are in crisis. It follows that, in Sierra Leone there are still numerous people looking for fortune in the diamond mines in spite of the ill-omened forecasts on the productivity of potential remaining deposits.

But given that chance plays an important role in the recovery of the most valuable gems and, thus consequently, earnings from the extraction of diamonds are not guaranteed, why do these miners invest their symbolic and material capital in mining? Should we consider the economy of artisanal diamond mining as a "casino economy" in which the actors bet on their own luck?

Through this paper I will focus on these questions examining, on one hand, how the winnings are shared between the miners and, on the other hand, exploring the notion of "luck" implicit in their practices.

Chance as work, chance as destiny?

Author: Danielle de Lame (Musée royal de l'Afrique centrale)  email
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Long Abstract

The life history of a Rwandan young man, born to become a peasant and currently aa foreman in a European building enterprise will be analysed within the conceptual framework of horizon and perspective as developed by Hannerz, and further supported by the case of a Tchétchène woman setteld in Belgium. It will be argued that the grasping of chances cannot be cut from the Foucaldian paradigm of agency. In conclusion, it will be pointed at the relativity of the evaluation of "chance", as grasping it combines an instant perception of an opportunity with the evaluation of ones own life trajectory at a point in time that is framed within a long term strategy of self-building, all this being shaped by the socially organized relation between self and society.

What's lucky about a disaster? On gifts, chance and envy

Author: Alicia Sliwinski (Wilfrid Laurier University)  email
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Long Abstract

Pairing the notions of luck and disaster may seem anathema, especially considering the tremendous destruction recent disasters have caused. However, disasters can also be an opportunity for change, the politics of which varies of course. This is most apparent in the reconstruction period when funds are disbursed to build new habitats. Drawing from ethnographic fieldwork in a Salvadorian municipality, this presentation discusses how the idea of chance framed humanitarian aid and reconstruction initiatives. The distribution of aid and the opportunity of owning a new house were considered by receiving groups as unforeseen gifts, a fortunate event. But someone's luck may be somebody else's envy, especially so in a context where the acquisition of goods remains difficult for poor and vulnerable populations. Exploring the connections between loss, luck and envy, this paper seeks to map the multifaceted representations of a disaster.

In search of sense: the social construction of a catastrophe in Martinique

Author: Giovanna Salome (University of Messina - Italy)  email
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Long Abstract

This paper presents an ethnographic study carried out in Martinique three years after the plane crash of August 16th 2005. The analysis will focus on the different forms of action and resignification implemented by the relatives of the missing passengers ("indirect victims").

Disasters are not just external agents perturbing the balance of a community, but events that individuals live, embody and re-elaborate. Disasters, therefore, produce the urgency to look for sense and to establish causes and responsibilities.

Within the process of continuous social production of the catastrophic reality, the "indirects victimes" and the whole martinican community refuse the unacceptable hypothesis of the fortune/misfortune.

An analysis of the plurality of discursive and symbolic practices produced on and around the disaster will permit to reflect upon the different strategies through which individuals reconstruct the event, give it a new meaning and reposition themselves in relation to it.

This workshop is closed to new paper proposals.